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RealTime IT News

Free Speech for Software Critics?

A national group of lawyers pushing for uniform state laws has approved amendments to a set of proposed rules for e-commerce, including new provisions limiting the ability of tech companies to remotely disable their software on a consumer's computer.

But the measures face a lot of opposition and would have to be adopted on a state-by-state basis, which means it's unlikely that software licensing procedures are about to be revolutionized soon.

The group, called the National Conference of Commissioners of Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL), approved changes to something called the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act, known as UCITA.

The organization is comprised of more than 300 lawyers, judges and law professors, appointed by the states as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, to draft proposals for uniform and model laws on subjects "where uniformity is desirable and practicable..."

UCITA, among other things, involves those licensing agreements that software makers require you to accept before using their programs. The changes in the recommendations permit customers to criticize software companies without the risk that companies could revoke the license to operate their products.

The changes also allow consumers to conduct reverse engineering to study how the software is made to ensure that it works with other technology, according to an Associated Press report.

UCITA has been roundly criticized by consumer organizations. They contend that UCITA would strip people of legal protections they enjoy under current state law. Proponents include Microsoft , America Online and the Business Software Alliance.

Early versions of the act have languished in most state legislatures. Virginia and Maryland approved versions of UCITA shortly after it was first proposed, but elsewhere it has died in committee.

Affected are software updates -- Microsoft, for example, reportedly has said that a forthcoming update for its Windows XP operating system will not load on some illegal copies and once identified, it will block these customers from downloading future security and reliability updates.

Whatever happens, the next stage is likely to be drawn out and fiercely fought.

The head of one supporter group, Americans for Fair Electronic Commerce Transactions, said even the amended rules would allow technology companies to disable software on a customer's computer for "perceived misuse" of a product, if the company gives reasonable notice.